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Archive for June, 2009

At the end of August, I’ll be going back to work full time for the first time since Ella was born, six years ago. It was too good of an offer to refuse – I’ll be teaching at the day school where Ella attends, and Zoe will attend in a year, which means that I will not  only be able to take them to and from school every day, but will also get to see them every day for many years. I’m sure it’s the right choice, but I’m also mystified about how everything will get done around the house.

I know many of my readers are in homes with two working parents. Now I’m asking (begging, really) you to share your secrets. How do you and your spouse divide up your household/parenting chores? How do you get dinner on the table at a reasonable hour? How do you get ready for shabbat? Do you ever get any sleep?

Any and all tips will be greatly appreciated!

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you never see these

you never see these

I tutor seven or eight kids a year for their bar mitzvah ceremonies, and consequently I attend a lot of parties. In fact, it’s become my husband’s and my main source of dates, since both hiring a sitter and paying to go out is rare splurge for us. Attending these events, I’m often reminded of how grateful I am to be raising my daughters in a small, haimish, community. There are almost never themes or t-shirts (do they still do these in other cities, or am I showing signs of age?) and never, ever, the “sexy bar-mitzvah dancers” I’ve heard about from my friends in the city. The most popular venue in our town for the parties is the Elks club, the typical entertainment is our local klezmer band, and nothing about the food and drink is opulent. (Sometimes I wish it were a little more kosher, but that’s another post….) Last night we attended a celebration in the bat-mitzvah’s back yard under a tent. In the middle of havdalah the sky opened up and starting pouring rain in biblical proportions. The guests, young and old, shot into gear, moving tables, running food into the house, helping musicians shlep their gear, and generally laughing about our muddy feet and soggy hair, while we sang and danced into the night.

It’s quite a contrast to this piece, which I read last week on Facebook, courtesy of my friend Jess. Seriously, how has it come to this?

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don't we look cool?

don't we look cool?

Here are the girls and I heading off to buy some challah on our brand new Xtracycle. I recently accepted a full time job for next year, and decided to splurge on something that I’d wanted for a long time. We’ve had our SUB* for 3 days and we’ve already gone to the grocery store, the hair salon, 3 friends’ houses, school, and to drop of a rug at the cleaners’ all with pure pedal power. It’s much easier to use than the Burley – no attaching and unattaching the trailer, over and over again – and a zillion time more versatile than a tag-a-long. Consequently, I’m motivated to bike more than ever before. Which is good for my health, my wallet, and the earth. And, I guess, the Jews.

Shabbat Shalom!

 

*sports-utility bike

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written for the July PJ Library e-newsletter

My husband and I had many arguments  long discussions about what we would name our children. He wanted French names, all of which evoked the Apostles, and I wanted Hebrew names, which seemed too “foreign” to him. We compromised, as parents must, by selecting names from neither tradition for their first, most-used, name. We gave our older daughter a Hebrew middle name and our younger daughter a French middle name, and selected additional Hebrew names for both girls for ritual use. As an interfaith couple, we knew that our families would attach a lot of significance to our name choices, and I think we ended up making a very honest statement with our decision – our children are religiously Jewish, but ethnically, they are products of a rich blend of traditions.

I don’t think we fully satisfied anyone with our choice. My mother regrets (aloud) that we didn’t name  the girls after some of her  deceased relatives, a widespread Jewish tradition. I’m sure that my in-laws wish they could have attended a baptism in which their granddaughters received their “Christian” names. Fortunately, we soon realized that there were many more naming opportunities ahead that required no debate whatsoever – we  got to name ourselves!

Keith became Papa, in keeping with his French roots. I wanted Eema, the Hebrew name for mother. (Unfortunately this name didn’t quite take; instead, Ella insisted on mimicking her “mama”-bleating Fisher Price dollhouse.) Choosing a name was even more thrilling for our parents, as their long awaited first granddaughter entered the world. My mother chose “Bubbe,” the name she called her beloved grandmother in Boro Park, Brooklyn as a little girl. My father-in-law was dubbed “Pip,” an affectionate nickname for Pépé, also French. His wife is an all-American “Grandma.” By using these names, our children on each of our parents’ traditions, without requiring us to compromise the decisions we have made about our family’s religion.

Zoe and Bubbe

Zoe and Bubbe

When my husband and I decided to marry, and Keith chose not to convert, I felt that the only way we could raise our children as proud, confident Jews was to be completely forthright and unapologetic about our mixed-marriage. No, Papa doesn’t know Hebrew. Yes, I keep kosher. Yes, Grandma and Pip have a Christmas tree and no, Bubbe doesn’t go to work on Jewish holidays. Our mutli-lingual array of family names is one more way to keep this conversation going. When I read A Grandma Like Yours/A Grandpa Like Yours, which introduces children to a tallit-wearing sheep called Zayde, a shofar blowing llama, known as saba, and a matzah-baking porcupine Papa, my younger daughter, Zoe, immediately wanted know, “Why is there no Pip in the book?” When I pointed out to her that all of the grandparents in the book were Jewish, she immediately understood. “Well, what did you call your grandfather?” they asked. I took the opportunity to tell my children about Pop-pop, who arrived at Ellis Island as a boy, and we speculated together about what name my father might have chosen had he lived to become a grandfather.

Someday, I’d love to see a sequel to A Grandma Like Yours that reflects diverse families like ours. In the meantime, I’d love to hear your story. What do your children call you and your parents, and why?

 

(r) cmyk PJ Library logo with tagline and pieces

The PJ Library™ program sends Jewish-content books and music on a monthly basis to families with children through age seven. Created by The Harold Grinspoon Foundation, The PJ Library is funded nationally in partnership with The Harold Grinspoon Foundation and local philanthropists/organizations.  To learn more, go to www.pjlibrary.org

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I grew up in a home that was not shabbat observant. While we sometimes went to synagogue, we also went shopping, to the movies, and to Memorial Stadium. As a participant in NCSY, I had an idea of what it meant to be shomer shabbat, but I also had the notion that this kind of extremism was only for the “frummies.”

electric shabbatAs a young adult, studying for a Master’s in Jewish Education at HUC, I began to question what it meant to work in Jewish education without actually observing one of the central mitzvot of Judaism. I ultimately dropped out of the program, went to a wonderful women’s yeshiva in NYC, and became significantly more observant for a number of years. I never identified as Orthodox or as a Ba’alat Teshuvah, but I did take halachah, and shabbat in particular, very seriously.

This worked for me on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, more or less. Observing shabbat didn’t feel like a sacrifice – I had meals to prepare, meals to attend, walks in the park, and a large group of peers all making the same kinds of choices. But once I left this community of observant but thoughtful, even progressive, Jews, I found that most other observant communities were decidedly uncomfortable for me for a myriad of reasons that I won’t delve into right now. And I realized that for better or worse, my commitment to halachah wasn’t based on faith, or a sense of being commanded to observe mitzvot, but based on wanting to belong to a community of like-minded Jews. Once I lost that community, I couldn’t really sustain much of my shabbat observance . Then I fell in love and married and non-Jew, and it became just that much more difficult.

Now that I have a daughter in day school, and still work as a Jewish educator, I’m realizing I need to re-think, once again, my approach to shabbat. What does it mean to light candles, have shabbat dinner, go to shul now and then, but otherwise treat shabbat like any other day? On the other hand, what does it mean to try to insist on a strict observance of shabbat when there are almost no shomer shabbat families in our town, and when my husband isn’t interested in going along for the ride (or should I say, the walk….)

So, I’m taking slow steps. This week, I quietly decided to turn off the computer for all of shabbat. As someone who spends way too much time on my laptop, this felt big, and I kept the decision private until Saturday night, when Ella heard me telling a friend at a havdallah potluck about my experiment.

Tonight, in the bath, Ella announced, entirely of her own accord,  “I think I’d like to stop watching tv on shabbat.” I told her I thought it was a great idea. I’ll remind her on Friday, although I won’t insist. Whether she follows through or not, it was a great reminder to me that even small changes on shabbat, which used to seem kind of ridiculous to me (either you keep shabbat or you don’t, right?) really matter now that I’m a parent. One of my challenges is to make sure we add to the do’s and not just the dont’s – that we find more families to celebrate with, and more ways to celebrate shabbat – as we consider eliminating various kinds of work.

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the calm before the storm

the calm before the storm

It’s 6:30, an hour after we usually start shabbat dinner during the school year, no matter what time the sun sets. But this is the first friday of vacation. My husband stopped for a drink on his way home to celebrate his last day of school, and the kids are playing a game which has something to do with Sasha and Malia Obama and Tinkerbell. Everything is ready, but no one seems to be in a rush to start dinner, least of all, me. I’m having a glass of Calvados and sitting quietly in the kitchen table enjoying my own pre-shabbat shabbat. It may be the most relaxing moment of the next 24 hours.

 

l'chayimL’chayim, mommies. And Shabbat Shalom.

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Although I was a vegetarian for over 25 years, I sure do love chicken. We keep kosher in a town where there is no kosher butcher, and sometimes the only Empire available is a whole chicken, which is great for soup, but trickier to cook in the oven, at least for me – I often end up under or overcooking it.

clay potI have finally landed on a fool-proof way of preparing whole chicken to recommend, although I must warn you that it requires the purchase of a new tool. I have a very small kitchen, and am not one to load up on extra gadgets, especially if I’m likely to want two of them – one for dairy and one for meat. But I guarantee you that a clay pot is worth the investment, even if all you were going to do was cook chicken in it.  The chicken comes out impossibly moist and tender – falling off the bone, as they say. (Don’t they?)

Every clay pot recipe begins by soaking the pot in cold water for at least 15 minutes. For chicken, I like to lay some carrots and or/halved onions on the bottom of the pot, so the chicken doesn’t end up soaking in its own, copious, grease. Then I stuff some flavors in the cavity – tonight it was half a lemon, 6 cloves of garlic and 2 sprigs of rosemary. Rub a little olive oil on the skin, salt and pepper, and place the chicken in the pot. Cover it with the top of the clay pot, and place it in a cold oven. Turn the oven to 400 and check on the chicken (if it’s around 3.5 pounds) in about an hour. When the temperature on a meat thermometer is up to about 150, I like to remove the lid of the pot so that the chicken can brown a little, but not so long that the meat has a chance to dry out. Remove when the thermometer hits 165.

Oh, is this good.

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